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Army Won’t Build Recon Satellites: Lt. Gen. Berrier « Breaking Defense

Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. photo

The Army’s proposed Multi-Domain Intelligence system combining space, air, and ground assets, as presented by Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier this morning at AUSA.

ARLINGTON: Army reconnaissance can’t see far enough ahead to spot targets for the new long-range missiles entering service in the 2020s, the deputy chief of staff for intelligence said this morning. So, Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier said, the service is developing a “multi-domain intelligence” approach that combines artificial intelligence, manned and unmanned aircraft, ground-based sensors and satellites in low earth orbit. But, he emphasized, the Army can’t afford to build those satellites. And it doesn’t need to, because other agencies and the private sector are already doing it.

Army photo

Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier

“In the Army that I know and that I grew up in, we’ve never really built rockets and launched satellites,” Berrier said when I pressed him on this point during his talk this morning at the Association of the US Army headquarters here. “I don’t think that’s a core competency for us, and when I think of the expense of that, it would get pretty hard to do.

“I don’t see us in the rocket-building, satellite-building business,” he said. “I see us leveraging partnerships that we already have to make the architecture better…taking advantage of all of the assets that are up there, whether they’re national technical means or commercial satellites, to be able to do long-range precision fires, in coordination with our aerial systems and our terrestrial systems.”

Berrier’s words are particularly important not only because he is the chief intelligence officer on the Army’s headquarters staff in the Pentagon. He is also the leader of the Army-wide Intelligence, Surveillance, & Reconnaissance (ISR) Task Force, created to coordinate ISR modernization across the service. It reports directly to the Vice-Chief of Staff, Gen. Joe Martin.

Now, Berrier’s statement this morning doesn’t quite contradict what other Army officials have been saying about the service’s interest in space. The Army’s talked about having its own satellites on and off for decades, with the Office of the Secretary of Defense quashing the project each time it threatened to create a significant expense alongside Air Force and intelligence community space programs. Lately, the service has experimented with launching microsatellites and “hosted payloads,” which are relatively cheap and light off to piggyback into space riding launchers carrying larger satellites.

Army photo

Army soldiers train on SMART-T terminals for AEHF satellite communications.

“Space,” broadly defined, is labeled high priority in the Army’s 2021 budget, albeit with modest $80 million in funding for Low-Earth Orbit capabilities. The modernization Cross Functional Team for Assured Precision, Navigation, & Timing (APNT) is now taking a leading role, not only for GPS alternatives, but other kinds of satellites as well.

Whatever the Army does in terms of buying, building, and launching its own satellites, however, it’s always depended heavily on satellites run both by the private sector and by other government agencies, and it only wants to increase that cooperation in the future.

“We do have a very forward-leaning secretary who’s engaged with our partners in this area,” Berrier said, “primarily NRO and NGA and USDI (the Intelligence Community), to be able to leverage those assets that are up there now and to be able to get the architecture in place to really support Multi-Domain Operations.”

Army graphic

SOURCE: Army Multi-Domain Operations Concept, December 2018.

Multi-Domain Intelligence

MDO, also known as Joint All-Domain Operations, is the military’s rapidly evolving concept for the new American way of war where information flows nigh-instantly between forces on land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace. One of the Army’s major contributions to this construct is what it calls strategic fires, long-ranged land-based missiles that can strike distant targets too well-defended by advanced anti-aircraft weapons for an airstrike.

The problem is that the Army has spent the last two decades hunting insurgents, terrorists and other targets operating relatively close to its own forces on the ground in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. The last time it had to find a target a thousand miles away was in the 1980s, when the service fielded the Pershing II ballistic missile. Since Pershing had a nuclear warhead, the target coordinates didn’t need to be precise. Now the Army is developing a Strategic Long-Range Cannon (SLRC) – basically a super-gun that launches missiles out of its barrel – and a Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW). Neither will carry a nuclear warhead, and the Army doesn’t have equally long-ranged reconnaissance assets to spot precision targets for them.

Army photo

Army Prophet Enhanced Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) vehicles

“The assets that we have – Prophets, Shadows, EMARS, Guardrail – they are all tremendous assets, [and] we know that we need to retain some of the capability for COIN [counterinsurgency] and counterterrorism, but we also have to be able to get after Russia and China,” Berrier said. “To do that, we know we need to go high, and we know we need to sense deeper.”

Back in 1987, when he joined the service near the peak of the Reagan buildup, “we had aerial assets at the division level and at the corps level that could actually see farther than we could shoot, so we could employ our precision fires and effects,” Berrier said. “In the modern era, the intelligence assets that we have right now for the Army cannot see as far as we can shoot. As we develop these long-range weapons – thing of the 1,000-mile cannon, SLRC and these other assets — we will not be able to see that far,” he said. “The whole goal for the ISR task force is to get that turned around.”

Berrier outlined what he called a “multi-domain intelligence” approach, using a “sensor grid from space to mud” linked by a high-speed network able to move masses of data rapidly and fuse it into a coherent picture of the war zone using artificial intelligence.

The “mud” level is what’s called the Terrestrial Layer System (TLS). That was formerly the Terrestrial Layer Intelligence System, replacing the truck-based Prophet, before the Army decided to combine signals intelligence with electronic and cyber warfare. All three disciplines require in-depth, high-tech understanding of what signals the enemy, allies, and neutrals are transmitting via radio. It’s a logical synergy on paper but requires overcoming longstanding bureaucratic rivalries to actually implement.

“TLS is coming along nicely,” Berrier said this morning. While he didn’t provide details, the Army’s program manager has said he expects to award Other Transaction Authority contracts in March or April and field the first operational units in early 2022.

This first iteration of TLS will belong to brigade commanders. Higher echelons will need greater capability and longer range, but that version is still nascent. “What TLS or the SIGINT/EW/cyber capability should be at the division level, those concepts are on the drawing board,” Berrier said.

The next level up is aerial ISR. The Army has a small fleet of manned aircraft and drones already, but it needs “probably a higher-flying platform with more power; we’re looking at options on the table right now,” Berrier said. “You’ve got to go high and you’ve got to go deep, and so as we look at that multi-domain sensing system, that will be new platform.”

“I’m platform agnostic” as to what manned or unmanned aircraft it will be, he said. “I just want the best sensors we can get.”

The Army’s NERO program tested a converted Navy jammer on a Grey Eagle drone, the Army version of the Predator.

The Army’s already flight-testing a electronic warfare detection and jamming pod, built by Lockheed Martin, known as Multi-Function Electronic Warfare (MFEW) Air, now set to enter service on in 2022. But the pod currently fits on the Grey Eagle drone, the Army variant of the aging Predator, which is not considered survivable in the face of Russian or Chinese air defenses.

As for the space layer, the most important Army procurement program is probably TITAN, the Tactical Intelligence Targeting & Access Node. Titan is a ground terminal to talk to satellites, whoever is operating them. While the initial version, fielding in 2022, will focus on space, future upgrades will be able to link to air and ground ISR as well, tying the whole multi-domain intelligence system together.

Although Berrier didn’t say so explicitly, the Army network will also need to share data with the other services, which own most of the military’s space and aerial reconnaissance assets. That’s a complex technical and organizational problem the Pentagon is now tackling under the umbrella of Joint All-Domain Command & Control, which will be essential to passing targeting data seamlessly across the services.

“For us, it’s really, in a multi-domain operation, about turning grey icons red,” Berrier said. In Army iconography, grey symbols on a map represent suspected enemy forces whose precise location is uncertain. Red ones are located precisely enough to target.

“Grey icons, I know the bad guys are out there, but I can’t see or sense them,” he said. “The icons that are red, we’ve got a bead on and we can put precision fires on them, [so] we can shoot them and kill them first.”

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